Without You I’m Nothing is an album about failure, unrequited love and ‘friends with weed’. Tatjana Clancy revisits Placebo’s massive 1998 album.
The second single-laden album for the UK indie outfit pushed them to American soil thanks to the record’s opening track – the pop gem ‘Pure Morning’ – which garnered plenty of radio airplay.
The rest of the record is for late night contemplation and introspection, with plenty of slower melodies mixed with some glam-rock swagger.
Their sound was unique and polarising, particularly lead singer Brian Molko’s vocals. One person’s androgynous genius was another person’s nasally whine.
His overt showmanship in a post grunge world where musicians like Kurt Cobain were eschewing the rock persona was a concept that the band were slowly embracing.
Brian reflected on this with Richard Kingsmill in 1998.
“I really don’t feel like a rock star right now,” he said. “Most days you wake up and you don’t but I think it’s necessary and it’s healthy because it’s other worldly and fantastical.
“I think the music industry needed it as it was feeling quite flat, that’s the mentality and it works. Go large.”
Drummer Steve Hewitt agreed.
“That’s what it’s about, pushing your art in people’s faces and loving what you do,” he told Kingsmill. “Being passionate about what you do.”
It was the gender-bending image in an era of rock and punk revival that perhaps saw Brian and co become a target, much like another dramatic character in the late-‘90s, Marilyn Manson. At the peak of their success, the band were receiving hate mail and death threats; though the band were pragmatic about it.
“You know you’re famous when you get stalker or death threats,” Molko said. “We took them and put them on the album as a big F U’.”
He’s referring to the album’s hidden track ‘Evil Dildo’ that contains the threatening answering machine messages of some stalkers that had been following the band.
“I think we just wind people up,” he said. “We’ve used our mouths too much. If you appear to be having too much fun people don’t like it.”
Despite being a guitar based band, the group were influenced by a more electronic sound like Aphex Twin, Underworld and The Prodigy.
“I think you grew up really not giving a toss about rock, because it’s gotten quite stale,” Molko said.
He admits to hiding behind the guitar on stage as part of his moody frontman aesthetic, but sheds it for ‘My Sweet Prince,’ a particularly poignant moment on the record. He explained that the song stemmed from personal experience.
“That song was kind of vomited forward really,” he told Kingsmill. “It came out of a tragic situation. It was a song that had to be written, a true exorcism. It deals basically with the degeneration of two romances; one with a person and one with a substance, both which ended in tragedy.”
The band toured incessantly on the back of the album, which presented a whole new challenge to the band.
“Inspiration is a difficult thing to duplicate on demand, like trying to be funny on demand,” Molko said. “In order for you to have a transcendental moment everything has to be in place, it’s very difficult on a daily basis to get all of those elements in place. But you shoot for that transcendental moment anyway.”
In 2017, the band is aiming to provide more special moments for us, celebrating 20 years together with an Australian tour and the release of a retrospective album A Place For Us To Dream – 20 Years Of Placebo.